Friday, January 30, 2009

Everything Is A Negotiation

"Are we negotiating?" "Always," replies Al Pacino playing the devil in the Devil’s Advocate.

In fact, it is more accurate to say that everything is a potential negotiation. Yet, in many situations, the effort to negotiate is not made. Fear, ignorance or complacency seem to be the usual suspects as to why we would not seek advantage.

As Shakespeare said, “Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt.” –Measure For Measure, Act 1.

In a recent New York Times article,"How Low Will They Go," the writer decides to test her long held beliefs, and sets off to negotiate the price of furniture at some high end outlets in NYC. While the writer meets with mixed success, she quickly learns that significant discounts can be had on items that she had reflexively assumed were not negotiable.

The writer expresses some discomfort at first even raising the subject of a price discount but once she learns some techniques, seems to enjoy the process. Not surprisingly, many of the salespeople actually were expecting some haggling.

The article is good as far as it goes but it barely touches on the methods that can be used to successfully negotiate just about anything. As a mediator and litigator conversant with the negotiation process, I have negotiated everything from furniture to hospital bills (a recent $18,000 bill to cast my 8 year old’s broken arm comes to mind) to the occasional night out with the boys.

When negotiating material objects, two techniques that are easy to master are the “flinch” and “nibbling.”

The flinch, which is one of my all time favorites, requires only that you respond to the offer, whether it be the price of a car, the insurance company’s settlement offer or the plaintiff’s demand, with a look of incredulity, then slowly repeat the offer as a question with a tone of utter disbelief. “$50,000?” Then, say nothing and wait for the other side to start making compromising gestures.

Nibbling is where the buyer asks for ostensibly small benefits after the price has been struck such as free delivery, no sales tax etc. The individual concessions are small but when added up can be substantial.

To learn about these and a plethora of additional negotiation and counter-negotiation techniques, one of the best sources I have found is "The Secrets of Power Negotiating", a series of audio recordings by Roger Dawsen that have withstood the test of time and will put you in the driver’s seat the next time you need to negotiate anything from the kid’s allowance to your next multi-million dollar settlement.

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